Saving Oscar from suicide

Posted: Mar 05, 2006 5:05 PM
Charles Dudley Warner claimed that everybody talked about the weather, but that nobody did anything about it. He could have said the same about the Academy Awards, but, then, he never met me.

Each time I watch the Oscars, I find myself sympathizing with my old friend Gil Cates. Gil, a very nice man, has somehow got stuck producing this elaborate wake year after year. I don’t know if he has bad karma or just a bad agent. I also don’t know how much they’re paying him. What I do know is that it’s not nearly enough.

The TV network wants to draw a huge audience, preferably composed entirely of 18-35 year olds, so that they can charge sponsors an arm and a leg to advertise. The motion picture industry also wants that same huge, young, audience because they have all those movies they want to promote. The problem is that the movies young people are interested in are not the ones that get nominated, unless it’s for visual effects, sound editing, or best animated feature. At the same time, the movies that score nominations in the major categories -- movies such as “Munich,” “Crash,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Capote” and “Brokeback Mountain” -- appeal to an older demographic, people who don’t want to spend three hours watching and listening to Chris Rock or David Letterman make smart alec remarks. Therein lies the annual dilemma.

Unlike some other old geezers, I didn’t think Rock was the worst of the Oscar hosts. How quickly some people have forgotten Whoopi Goldberg and the aforementioned Letterman! Rock merely served to remind us how much we all miss Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.

What would I do with the Oscarcast if Mr. Cates wisely stepped aside and handed the reins over to me? For openers, I’d stop trying to ride two horses headed off in opposite directions. So long as serious, mature movies are going to be nominated, the MTV audience isn’t going to be tuning in. No, not even if Britney Spears and Paris Hilton emceed the event in tandem. So I’d forget about trying to woo a young audience with a hip young host. All that does is alienate the older folks. The truth is, unless you happen to be the agent, manager or spouse of a nominee, it’s not that big a deal. Female viewers tune in to see what the actresses are wearing and what they look like, post- botox and plastic surgery, and men tune in to see if they’ve won or lost a lunch bet or if Janet Jackson’s dress is going to come undone .

Next, I would get over the idea that the host has to be a comic. Just because Bob Hope was funny, there’s no reason on earth that the ringmaster has to crack jokes. If Bing Crosby had emceed the event for 20 years, would every subsequent host have had to be a crooner?

On top of everything else, the show, as the Academy is always reminding us, goes out around the world. In most countries, I dare say, the one-liners, even if they were amusing, wouldn’t be understood. And in spite of what Chris Rock may think, all those millions of foreign viewers never heard of the Gap. And as for Banana Republic, that’s where a lot of them live, not where they shop.

Now, having learned zilch from their past mistakes, they’ve hired Jon Stewart to host this year’s event. Stewart, a typical limousine liberal, can be counted on to look smug and make anti-Bush jibes that will wow the few hundred people in the studio audience, while bumming out 50% of the Americans sitting at home. From a marketing point of view, you would think the folks in Hollywood would be a tad more aware of the message they are constantly sending out, and at least pretend they didn’t regard themselves as so much better and smarter than everybody else. But even plummeting box office receipts aren’t enough to wake up these self-absorbed bozos.

If I were running things, I’d put an end to those lame monologues. It’s an awards event. If the audience is looking for jokes, they’ll stick around for an hour or two after the show is over and get their fill from Jay Leno. Besides, he’s got better writers.

Next, I’d hire a host who had made his mark in the movies and who was bright enough to make an amusing ad lib if the occasion presented itself. Instead of trolling at the comedy clubs, I’d approach the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Judith Dench, Richard Dreyfuss, Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Michael Caine, Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, and Sean Connery.

Unless the folks at ABC and at the Academy wake up to the fact that they can’t hope to have it both ways, trying to snag both the kids and their grandparents, I’m afraid poor Gil Cates will continue to find himself stuck between a Chris Rock and a hard place.